Stretching the Truth: Coping with Stretch Marks

Some call them badges of honor, but for many expectant moms, stretch marks are another unwelcome bump in the road as their own bellies become bumps. We chatted with New York City dermatologist and ADA spokesperson Andrea Cambio, MD, for the truth about how to deal.

Myth 1: Stretch marks are preventable.
According to Cambio, stretch marks are due to the pulling and stretching forces in underlying layers of the skin that are inevitable in the last few months of pregnancy. In fact, 90 percent of expectant mamas experience them in one form or another. Look at your family history, since genetics usually play a role in whether or when you'll get them and how severe they'll be.

Myth 2: Carrying small or dieting makes a difference.
Absolutely not, says Cambio. "The body is going to do what it wants to do," she says, advocating eating healthy and gaining the amount of weight advised by your doctor. Dieting is a dangerous -- and ineffective -- method to try to prevent stretch marks.

Myth 3: "I'll be stuck with these reddish-purple bumps forever!"
Stretch marks are actually little scars that start out a dark purple-red in color but will fade gradually, first to a light brown and then to a silvery color, depending on your skin tone. You're most likely to find them on your belly, breasts and butt. If you're freaking about their initial appearance, Cambio advises waiting to see how they look when faded before taking major action.

Myth 4: Creams and lotions can make them vanish.
Sorry -- no matter how luxe it looks or what ingredients it contains, no OTC lotion is going to reverse your stretch marks, so don't let the ads fool you. Products with moisturizing ingredients like cocoa butter and oatmeal will reduce itchiness and skin irritation, so take advantage of those qualities -- but don't expect a miracle. And avoid goods with a heavy fragrance, which can further irritate your skin.

What will work: Doctor-prescribed treatments typically work best when stretch marks are in their early phase, which may not ideal for pregnant and breastfeeding moms. But Cambio says two to consider are tretinoin-based creams (tretinoin is a vitamin A derivative) and pulse-dye laser treatments, which are in-office dermatological procedures. If you're considering these, discuss them with both your dermatologist and OB/GYN to learn about side effects.

Myth 5: The sun will be your savior.
Some studies have shown that concentrated UVB rays (administered by a doctor) can effectively pigment light-colored stretch marks, but they're not a permanent fix. Cambio does not recommend extensive outdoor tanning for many reasons; self tanners and Dermablend concealers are the best way to go for quick and easy cosmetic fixes.


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